Frequently Asked Questions
1. We’re two different races. How can I trust you to represent my experiences?
Thank you for raising this important point. At The Melanin Collective, we’re not here to co-opt your realities and act as torch-holders for all experiences underneath the sun. There are too many nuances for us to even pretend that we have walked a mile in your unique shoes; your identity is a culmination of personal histories that exist within larger systems of oppression that shape how you interact with and see the world. One reality may differ wildly from another.
But one thing we can hopefully agree on is that womxn and gender non-conforming people of color’s existence is defined by a constant struggle against different forms of oppression, from violence and marginalization to exploitation and powerlessness, all varying in their frequency and intensity. And to make it more frustrating: we rarely have the resources to create or access productive platforms to address, discuss, and build solutions to overcome these oppressions. And that’s where we saw an opportunity to fill a gap.
As two light-skinned mujeres, we can’t deny our own privilege, but we don’t run away from it either. Using our cultural and financial capital, we both decided to create a space where womxn and gender non-conforming people of color could see their true self and value, to work as a collective for the common good, and to develop supportive, professional, and lasting relationships.
The Melanin Collective is special to us because of people like you. We’ve had participants from all walks of life, from self-made mamas sharing learned wisdom to womxn in-between opportunities looking to tap into internalized assumptions they’ve made about themselves. All we do is set the stage for you to explore those parts of your experience you may have not thought about before, and help support your growth along the way.
2. Soo, you mujeres are light-skinned. Why did you decide to use the term “melanin”?
Our skin, hair, and eye color are determined by a pigment called melanin, and everyone has it, although in varying forms and ratios. Our light skin comes with many privileges, from a societal preference for lightness to being able to “pass” in certain situations just on the virtue of visibly resembling a white person. Being light-skinned makes our lives easier in some respects, but the presence of physical characteristics specific to our ethnicities are still there and have been used against us when convenient.
When we were brainstorming on what to call our social enterprise, we wanted to use language that reflected common experiences felt by all womxn of color: that is, womxn of color, persons who identify as womxn, and gender non-conforming people of color are united together by the oppressions and discriminations we face resulting from the amount of pigmentation we have in our skin. And that’s how we got to the name: The Melanin Collective: Womxn of Color, Standing Together.
What makes The Melanin Collective special is that even if there are five womxn in the room with five different experiences, our community is bound by respect and a willingness to learn from each other. While womxn and gender non-conforming people come to learn about what holds them back and how to overcome adversities, they also come away knowing something more about what other womxn from other backgrounds may go through. While we do not have the same lived experience as a black woman, we can all still resonate with discriminatory experiences, bias, and prejudice and shared feelings of anxiety and tiredness and constant doubts over whether or not we are enough. We can’t grow as a community if our cards are held to our chests; when we open up to each other, that’s when true understanding and compassion can begin.
3. What do you mean by womxn of color?
The Melanin Collective uses the original definition of womxn of color as described by Loretta J. Scott, a nationally-recognized womxn’s rights and human rights leader and expert on womxn’s issues and racism:
“It was in those negotiations in Houston, the term womxn of color was created. Okay? They didn’t see it as a biological designation. You’re born Asian. You’re born black. You’re born African-American. Whatever. It is a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed womxn of color who have been minoritized.
Now, what’s happened in the 30 years since then is that people see it as biology now. You know? People are saying, “I don’t want to be defined as a woman of color. I am black. I am Asian-American.” Well, that’s fine. But why are you reducing a political designation to a biological destiny? That’s what white supremacy wants you to do, you know?
...The point is, when you choose to work with other people who are minoritized by oppression, you have lifted yourself out of that basic identity into another political being, another political space.
Unfortunately, so many times, people of color hear the term “people of color” from other white people; then they think white people created it. Instead of understanding that we self-named ourselves this. This is a term that has a lot of power for us. But, we’ve done a poor-ass job of communicating that history so that people understand that power.”
4. In what ways are you inclusive?
The Melanin Collective believes in including womxn and gender non-conforming people of color from all walks of life and experiences. We support womxn of all racial and ethnic groups, of all sexual and gender minorities, and both able-bodied and disabled. We want to analyze and support challenges that arise from the many intersections of these identifiers. And to this end, we have created a space for all of us to heal, thrive, and be free.
The Melanin Collective speaks out about injustices and works to find solutions for our members. We support a woman’s right to choose and to express herself without reprimand. We value different perspectives and the importance of listening to each other.
For all of us to be free, we need to understand how we are oppressed, how we oppress others, and have created a space for all of us to heal, thrive, and be free.
If you didn’t know already, our co-founder Doris has an invisible disability, and it’s really shaped our resolve to develop accessible products in the best ways we can. We’re not perfect, but here are some of the measures we’ve taken:
We’ve adapted some stylistic choices to make sure our website is compliant with Section 508, which requires website content be accessible to people with disabilities.
In our products, graphics, and content, we do our best to make the information accessible, easy to understand, and inclusive of different experiences.
When we plan events, we advocate for accommodations for people with disabilities.
In our social media, we follow Social Media Accessibility tips like using CamelCase, the capitalization of multiple words in our hashtags, so that people can read them easily. (Ex.: #TheMelaninCollective versus #themelanincollective)
5. What do you mean by “leave your code-switching at the door”?
Now, have you ever found yourself changing your tone of voice or the words you use, depending on the people you are around? That’s called code-switching, and womxn and gender non-conforming people of color have to do a lot of it in order to fit into the world around us. (See: Molly, on Insecure.) But at The Melanin Collective, we encourage you to drop the code-switching and come into the conversation as your truest self. Since many of our workshops involve in-depth and personal reflection, it’s important that we don’t censor ourselves and our feelings: we can’t do the real work if there’s a wall standing in our way!
6. Why do you charge for your workshops?
Porque del amor no se come/ Because you can't live off love.
Here’s the deal: womxn and gender non-conforming people of color need and deserve to be paid. We have greater wage gaps in the working world, represent almost half of the low-wage workforce, are underrepresented in top leadership positions, and the list goes on and on. Charging for our workshops was a really intentional action. We wanted to send a clear message that womxn and gender non-conforming people of color should be paid for their services and that it is okay to get paid what you deserve! While The Melanin Collective is our passion and a labor of love, we wanted to end the cycle of exploitation, having our talents reaped for other’s benefit, and losing creative license over the things we’ve made. We believe you shouldn’t be expected to do the emotional and physical and mental labor for free all of the time.
7. Are white womxn/allies welcomed in The Melanin Collective?
First and foremost, our work centers on the experiences of womxn and gender non-conforming people of color. There aren’t enough spaces out there where womxn and gender non-confroming people of color can talk frankly about their daily frustrations and find solutions that are catered to them. For that reason, our workshops are really meant to serve womxn and gender non-conforming people of color.
But The Melanin Collective isn’t “anti-ally.” We believe that in order for you to be a good ally, you have to respect the spaces womxn and gender non-conforming people of color create for themselves, work on a personal level to identify your blind spots, and act as a voice in your community to support, elevate, and amplify the voices of marginalized communities everywhere. We are not in the business of shaming white womxn and gender non-conforming people or allies; we believe more can be gained through education and creating awareness than through judgment.
If you are an ally and you like to learn more about what you can do to support movements or learn more about why white actions have consequences for womxn and gender non-conforming people of color, please feel free to contact us to schedule a workshop.